Research includes: Optimisation of micronutrient status in food crops, risk assessment of metals and metalloids in soils, bio-indicators of pollution, focussing on heavy metals and manufactured nanoparticles, biogeochemistry of phosphorus, sulphur and trace elements in soils, microbes and plants.
Sustainable Soils and Grassland Systems
The Sustainable Soils and Grassland Systems Department has staff at both the Harpenden and North Wyke sites. We aim to understand, model and manipulate the abiotic and biotic processes in arable and grazed grassland soils to improve the function, resilience and sustainability of farming systems.
Areas of scientific expertise
The Department has internationally-acknowledged expertise in the biology, chemistry and physics of soils and soil processes in arable and grazed grassland systems. It has particular expertise in nutrient and pollutant cycling, especially of carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, sulphur and micronutrients, the recycling of organic manures, greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, soil-root interactions, and soil and crop modelling. The Department delivers to Rothamsted's strategic objectives in the areas of sustainable soil and grassland management.
The Department links most closely to the Delivering Sustainable Systems research programme, delivering research on sustainable soil and grassland management. It also delivers research into soil-root interactions to '20:20 Wheat®', on carbon cycling, sequestration and modelling to 'Cropping Carbon', and on micronutrient quality of cereal grains to 'Designing Seeds'.
Research focusses on evaluating the sustainability of modern agricultural practices and the tradeoffs with the provision of environmental goods and services. An ecosystem services approach has been adopted for use with mathematical models that quantify, value and compare the provision and resilience of provision of goods and environmental services in both space and time and in the face of stresses such as climate change and growth in demand.
The world needs innovative solutions for the sustainable intensification of its major agricultural systems. The North Wyke Farm Platform represents a large investment by BBSRC in the future, to not only study but also improve grassland livestock systems in a national and global research asset linked to real-world farming.
Department Press Releases
Published in the leading journal Global Change Biology, the study shows that decades of intensive grassland farming across the UK, involving high rates of fertilizer use and livestock grazing, have caused valuable soil carbon stocks to decline.
The team found that the largest soil carbon stocks to depth were beneath grasslands that have been farmed at intermediate levels of intensivity, receiving less fertilizer and with fewer grazing animals.
Models of pests and diseases help us to understand the implications of control strategies at field to landscape scale, but the behaviour of individual farmers should also be considered. Rothamsted Research scientists, in collaboration with researchers in the US, used game theory concepts to build a model framework for understanding feedback mechanisms between the actions of humans and the dynamics of pest populations. They demonstrate this framework with an example about the European corn borer, a moth whose larval phase is a major pest of maize.
A new LEAF Innovation Centre is being launched today by LEAF (Linking Environment And Farming), the leading organisation promoting sustainable farming. The North Wyke site of Rothamsted Research in Okehampton, Devon becomes the latest site to join LEAF’s network of Innovation Centres. It will showcase sustainable farming methods, particularly in the area of grassland systems, and support the development and promotion of sustainable farming through Integrated Farm Management.
Speaking at the launch today, Caroline Drummond, Chief Executive of LEAF said:
Commonly known as ‘laughing gas’, and used in anaesthetics and as a ‘legal high’, nitrous oxide (N2O) is a potent greenhouse gas produced by micro-organisms in the soil, especially on land grazed by animals.
As part of the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Innovation Club (SARIC), developed and funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), together with industry partners, scientists at Rothamsted Research are soon to begin work on two major research projects.